I was about thirteen.  Everyone knows this story, it barely needs retelling, I know that, but its hard to forget.  I was standing among a group of three boys, we were down to three, the other ten or so were standing opposite us, looking at us.  I'd been in this situation before, I'd been down to three, three left in choosing the teams in gym class.  I don't even know what we were choosing teams for, might have been basketball, I think we were inside, but all I remember is we were down to three and then Rick, the captain of one of the groups standing opposite us, he said, "Paul."

That was it.  He said my name and my ordeal was ended.  Rick, he was my best friend, we spent a lot of time together, so he chose me.  He didn't let me be the last.  But it's funny you see, because he didn't pick me first.  He let me stand there for awhile, he let us get down to three.  I guess he wanted to make sure he had a winning team first, then he saved me.  I was glad the ordeal was over, at least mostly over because we still had to play the game, I was glad it was over, but still I'd been standing there when we were down to three and I couldn't have been sure, couldn't have been sure at all, that I wouldn't be the last.

And what's funny about that now, what's really peculiar about that, is that now, in middle age, I run  marathons.  I run twenty six miles and I don't really run slowly.  I mean, I'm not winning in my age group or anything, but I'm running pretty fast.  I'm a marathoner.  That counts as an athlete, doesn't it?

I don't have any sense of myself as an athlete.  I was one of the last kids to be chosen in gym class.  I might have been the last if I hadn't had certain social skills that allowed me to be friends with the smart jocks.  I had no sense of my physical self,  little sense of what my body could do.  I was skinny, I wasn't an athlete and I never even thought about running marathons.

Running was a part of my mid life crisis, it preceded my coming out, maybe it assisted it, I can't be sure. Running gave me a sense of my physical self.  A growing sense of my physical self as a gay man, as a gay middle aged man, a man coming out.  All around me I've met these gay men, these men in their forties, in their fifties, these gay men even in their sixties, and they have fit bodies, trim, muscular.  They go to the gym.  They run.  They take care of themselves.  They want to be attractive to each other.

I'm going to the gym a lot myself these days.  I'm building my body.  I plan on running my fourth marathon next year and I intend to get very strong before I undertake again the punishing marathon training.  I never thought I could do any of these things when I was young, I wasn't an athlete, it would have been ridiculous to think about, I was one of the last to be chosen.

Rick wasn't much of a best friend, I know that now.  He dumped me a year or so later because he said his buddies on the baseball team were more fun than I was.  I wasn't an athlete.  Or at least I thought I wasn't.

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